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Hoyer: America still on collision course despite budget cease-fire

By Steny Hoyer
updated 1:56 PM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
Congress needs to seize the opportunity to make the hard budget decisions, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer says.
Congress needs to seize the opportunity to make the hard budget decisions, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer says budget talks are in a quasi-"cease-fire" period
  • With no immediate crisis, now is the time to make the hard budget decisions, he argues
  • Hoyer: Both parties must work together to place our country on a stable fiscal path

Editor's note: U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, is House minority whip. You can follow him on Twitter @WhipHoyer. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- For four years, I have been among those leading the call for a big and balanced agreement on deficit reduction that can set America back on a fiscally sustainable path.

After watching Congress lurch from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, kicking the can down the road, Americans are rightly wary of talk about the budget.

Now we're in what some would call a "cease-fire," with top-line budget numbers set for this year and next, and certainty that our nation can pay its bills until next March.

Rep. Steny Hoyer
Rep. Steny Hoyer

As a result, it is tempting to stop talking about what we can do to move our country toward fiscal sustainability, but that would be a dangerous missed opportunity.

Now is the time -- without an immediate crisis putting pressure on us to act only according to our short-term interests -- when we can clearly evaluate our options and make the hard decisions.

We need to do the hard work of reaching a compromise that will allow us to invest in our priorities and put our nation's long-term budget outlook on a more sustainable path. We will have opportunities this year to make progress toward this goal, and we cannot fail to seize them.

Failure to achieve fiscal sustainability will worsen the economic uncertainty our families, businesses and workers are already facing. If we don't act, the rising costs of mandatory spending, driven by growing interest on our debt and baby boomers' retirement, will crowd out investments in the programs that make our country great, including those that advance education, innovation and research.

Today, interest payments on our debt stand at 1.4% of gross domestic product, and by 2024 that is expected to reach 3%. That may not sound like much, but it's more than we spend on research, infrastructure and education -- combined.

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In the 1960s, we spent $3 in investments for $1 in entitlement programs. Today, that ratio is reversed.

Both of these trends will make it difficult for Congress to invest in programs that help Americans lift themselves out of poverty and into the middle class, promote business growth and protect our national security.

That's why it's so important that we keep making progress toward fiscal sustainability, so that we can begin investing in our people again. Congress will have a number of opportunities this year to take action, opportunities it would be foolish to waste.

First, passing comprehensive immigration reform this year would, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, reduce the deficit by $900 billion over the next two decades, including $200 billion over the first 10 years. The Senate has passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill, and the House ought to follow suit.

Second, we will need to look at making and financing new infrastructure investments. If we do so with a dedicated revenue source, it would be a win-win for both our economic and fiscal outlooks.

Third, we're going to have to address a number of expiring -- and already expired -- tax provisions while replacing any revenue lost in extending them. I believe we should go further and pursue comprehensive reform of our tax code that simplifies filing while potentially lowering rates. This will enable us to raise revenues and promote growth by providing greater certainty to the private sector.

Finally, Congress will have to act next year to replace the remaining sequester cuts. We should adopt a more strategic approach that enables us to prioritize our investments while achieving balanced deficit reduction.

Those who recognize the need for reaching a big deal, as I do, must continue to promote its benefits -- an injection of certainty that will allow businesses to unleash job-creating capital into our economy and a renewed ability for Congress to invest in a strong and growing middle class.

Congress must maximize every opportunity this year to push our country closer toward the sustainable long-term budget outlook that must be our ultimate goal.

Without a serious effort to place our country on a fiscally sustainable path, our ability to fulfill the vision of our Founders and the aspirations of the American people will diminish.

I refuse to accept a future where America can no longer lead the world because we can't afford it.

It is up to Democrats and Republicans to work together to place our country on a stable fiscal path that can enhance our national security and invest in the education of our people and in America's infrastructure in order to grow our economy.

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